|By Kevin Amerman, The Morning Call,
Allentown, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 31, 2007 - As drunken-driving arrests continue to rise locally and statewide, overnight New Year's Eve stays are becoming increasingly popular for those who want to ring in the New Year without ending up in handcuffs or on a hospital bed, say area hotel operators and a tourism official.
"It can be a lot less expensive getting a hotel room than venturing out," said Dennis Costello, general manager of the Hotel Bethlehem, where all 128 of its rooms are booked tonight.
"You're finding more and more people don't want to risk drunk driving," Costello said.
Statewide, DUI offenses have increased every year over the past five years from 43,066 in 2002 to 50,587 in 2006, according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System.
The system, which uses figures reported by participating police agencies throughout the state, shows that DUI offenses also have risen each year over the past five years in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metropolitan statistical area, from 2,538 in 2002 to 2,817 in 2006. The statistical area includes Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties.
"The fact is DUIs have increased in this area tremendously," said Jen Slifer, a manager for Four Points by Sheraton Hotel and Suites Allentown Airport. "And we have seen an increase [in New Year's Eve guests]."
At the Hotel Bethlehem, New Year's Eve is one of the top six revenue-generating events annually, Costello said. Package deals that range from $65 to $85, featuring live entertainment inside the hotel and champagne toasts at midnight, helped sell out the rooms, which cost an additional $145 to $173 tonight. All tables in the hotel's fine-dining restaurant are booked and only a few spots remained as of late last week for the restaurant/bar.
Costello said Bethlehem's First Night celebration also gives people another reason to come downtown.
Four Points on Airport Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, is offering four different celebrations -- an hors d'oeuvres reception for $30 a person; a "Family Fun Splash" in the pool featuring a "dive-in movie" presentation of Shrek The Third with family packages starting at $235; a surf-and-turf buffet for $40 a person or $50 with the nightclub celebration; and a ballroom party featuring a live band and party favors for $70 per person. Partygoers also will pay about $30 less than the usual price of about $150 for rooms.
Slifer said 40 to 50 packages were booked as of Saturday and only 33 of the hotel's 147 rooms had not been reserved.
"The trend has changed. People now stay at one place instead of bumping around," Slifer said, noting that 20 to 30 walk-ins usually request rooms on New Year's Eve.
Hotels in the Poconos also have benefited from partiers' caution, said Robert Uguccioni, who will officially retire as executive director of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau when the clock strikes midnight. "It's the safe way to go. If you want to go out and party, it's better to stay there."
Several resorts in the Poconos including Mount Airy Casino Resort in Paradise Township, Fernwood Hotel and Resort in Bushkill and all four Caesars Pocono Resorts, are offering all-inclusive New Year's Eve packages.
Uguccioni said this year, because New Year's Day falls on a Tuesday, it appears as though many people "are making a whole week out of it." He said Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 usually generates 10 percent or more of tourist revenue for the entire winter season.
Mount Airy opened its new club Friday night and has been selling $75 packages, which include dinner, live music and a champagne toast at midnight. An Elvis tribute act will take the stage tonight for two shows at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. The reservation desk at the hotel has been busy the past week, said casino spokesman Pete Peterson.
Lehigh Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Tracey Werner said New Year's Eve in the Valley doesn't draw a lot of people from beyond 50 miles away, although many who live in the region do flock to Bethlehem for First Night, the alcohol-free New Year's Eve event featuring fireworks, music and family entertainment.
She said those who stay in local hotels provide a much-needed boost.
"The hotels are always looking to fill [at the end of December] because business travel is down now," she said.
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